Military at MAC: Decoding Ammunition from Campus

Recently a supervisor from landscape services contacted us after they uncovered an artifact. During the last big wind storm approximately 20 tree were badly damaged. One of the uprooted trees was located on the east side of Cowles House, and the crew discovered an old ammunition casing under the tree’s root ball. So what can this ammunition casing tell us?

Ammunition casing recovered near Cowle's House

Ammunition casing recovered near Cowles House

There are several ways to identify the size of ammunition from the cartridge case. Each type of ammunition has a unique:

  • case length (the longest measurement of the cartridge case)
Casing case length. Image Source.

Casing case length. Image Source.

  • neck diameter (front portion of cartridge case where bullet is seated. Neck diameter is the external measure of this feature)
Cartridge neck. Image source.

Cartridge neck. Image source.

  • diameter at base of case
  • rim diameter (not all cartridges are rimmed, a cartridge with a rim has a base rim that is larger in diameter than the rest of the head).

This particular bullet is a .30-06. This .30 caliber bullet was introduced in 1906, hence to 06 ending. The .30-06 was the U.S. Army’s primary rifle cartridge for nearly 50 years.

So now we’ve figured out the caliber of the ammunition, but who made the bullet? Thankfully, similar to ceramic makers marks or registered designs, ammunition cartridges have identifying marks on the headstamp.

Headstamp example. Image source.

Headstamp example. Image source.

These markings usually contain information on the caliber and manufacturer of the cartridge, and if it’s military ammunition the date of manufacture. This headstamp reads “F A 7 11”.

Headstamp of Cowels House ammunition casing.

Headstamp of Cowels House ammunition casing.

The F A stands for Frankford Arsenal. This ammunition plant opened in 1816 and was the main U.S. military small-arms ammunition producer until 1977. Ammunition produced prior to World War I at this plant was dated with a numerical month-year, so the 7 11 indicates a production date of July 1911.

CAP has found ammo casings and shells at various locations across north campus, so the find didn’t surprise us. But you might be thinking, why do we commonly find evidence of ammunition, specifically military ammunition, on campus? The answer is fairly straightforward; historically there was a military presence on campus.

MAC training detachment c. 1910. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

MAC training detachment c. 1910. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

In the 1800s there were military training classes offered (in 1863 a Military Department was organized and many Michigan State students and faculty served in the Civil War), and small arms & artillery were stored on campus. By the 20th century there was also an active R.O.T.C. contingent, and during WWI a student army training corp in addition to enlisted soldiers training on campus.

Student Army Training Corps (SATC) c. 1918. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Student Army Training Corps (SATC) c. 1918. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

After the collapse of College Hall in 1918 the surviving corner of the building was incorporated into an artillery shed/garage. The artillery shed was used to house military vehicles and ammunition. Beaumont Tower now occupies this space (and the money was donated by Beaumont to build this after he visited campus and was angered by the artillery garage replacing what was College Hall) and this location is not far from Cowles House, where the casing was recovered.

Artillery Shed/Garage. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Artillery Shed/Garage. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The ammunition was likely used within 10-15 years of the production date. Modern factory produced ammunition, when stored properly, is good for approximately 10 years. We will never know under what specific circumstances this rifle was fired on campus, but it’s presence is part of a long military connection.



Historical Impact of War on Campus

As I continue to collect information from the University Archives about the early sustainability practices on campus, I keep uncovering little snippets of information in pamphlets or handwritten notes that send me on paper chase for more clues. I have been trying to be more diligent about coalescing all these tangents into a readable draft of a paper, but some weeks the detective work gets the best of me and I use my time at the Archives to page through 140 year old pages simply because, well, it’s pretty cool that they are 140 years old. We have a fantastic Archives resource on campus. I’ve recently started  to read some of the Presidents’ Papers collection, which has some truly interesting information that I hope to use to trace the value the university placed on aspects of food and transportation over the first 100 years.

For this blog post, I’ve decided to share another excerpt from the paper draft I am continuing to edit this semester. This section references the impact of wars on the university, both in terms of student involvement and academic response. Enrollment numbers dropped during each war, with increasing spikes in enrollment post-war (especially after World War II). What I find most intriguing is that the university refashioned itself to become part of the national war machine during each conflict (though in markedly different manners throughout the decades).

Civil War

In his recollections of time spent at the college, Henry Haigh noted that in the years 1862 and 1865 there were no graduates, while in 1866 only two students received degrees. The Civil War was making attendance at the fledgling college obsolete, so much so that the Bill to Abolish the College was introduced in the state legislature. The governor did not support the bill, and while attendance was depressed during the first half of President Abbot’s tenure, enrollment gradually rose until it exceeded the capacity of the college. This trend continued, requiring the administration to address accomodation issues.

In 1863, an Act to Establish a Military School at MAC was introduced. The act stated that all arms, accoutrements, books, instruments, and military instructors were to be procured at the expense of the state. Military tactics and engineering were to be taught at the college in order to supplement the war effort.

World War I Memorial, erected 1922, via MSU Archives

World War I

Often, the direction of research at MAC was directly linked with current national or global political affairs. For instance, when the college hosted the 1919 Agricultural Exposition (an annual event), exhibits showcased the response of the state to the war. Production and cost of war munitions, dairy, and meat were specific topics at the wartime exhibition.

In a document detailing the history of the MAC Women’s Club (1916-1918) during World War I (Snyder 1918), Professor AJ Clark advised club members to conserve fuel by closing off rooms, sifting ashes, and combining family households. References to the urgency of the fuel shortage are found throughout the document. In February 1918, the club hosted Mrs. Luther Baker who discussed the scarcity of garden seeds. It was suggested that garden clubs be started with seeds bought from reliable companies. Clearly this focus on gardening and food production illustrates the sustainable practices people were looking toward during wartime. A large meeting on community gardens was recorded, as well as notes on the club’s involvement on a national level with the food conservation program developed by the US Department of Agriculture. Club members found creative methods to deal with food conservation and rationing; for instance, women hosted luncheons at which only foods approved by the government for wartime were prepared. Recipes were exchanged at these luncheons, with each invitee encouraged to host a party of her own. Rather than feel restricted by the government conservation suggestions, club members rallied to effectively build sustainable and healthy communities through food and fuel sharing.

World War II

During World War II, Michigan State College reevaluated academic programs in light of the national war effort. In a release from the Department of Publications to the Detroit Times in 1943, the college stated that, “Whether it be in the classroom or experimental laboratory, every project of research, instruction, and extension is evaluated on the basis of its contribution towards victory.” Sixty campus departments offered classes redesigned to fit the new goals of the country, offering everything from Japanese language courses to mathematics classes in air and marine navigation procedures. Special skills agriculture courses were offered to women to relieve the shortages in farm labor when men were deployed to war. The Physical Education department eliminated activities that did not directly provide “vigorous physical activity” and “recreational features of value to service men in army camps.” Sports such as football, baseball, and basketball were emphasized as these activities were considered to increase competitiveness necessary to win the war. Women in the Home Economics department were entered into special courses in industrial food management designed to train students for managerial positions in large industrial lunch rooms. After the war began, these lunchrooms were established to efficiently feed growing numbers of troops.

Experimental studies were performed by the Home Economics department to streamline food production. One study on carp explored ways of making carp, a widely available fish, more palatable. The food for victory program supported experiments in fruit and vegetable dehydration to more efficiently preserve perishable food items. Specialists from the college worked with Michigan canning factories to determine the best soils for high yields in order to combat food shortages across the country. To counteract the nitrogen limitations imposed by the government, the college began training programs in soil management so that state farmers could produce their own nitrogen by growing mulch and cover crops.

The Animal Husbandry department attempted to control invasive nodular worms in sheep populations through experimental studies. The worm infestation, common in all sheep, compromises the integrity of catgut which was used for surgical sutures in military hospitals. Sheep affected by nodular worms tended to be smaller in size and grew poorer quality wool. Controlling the worms in sheep populations resulted in more meat, better wool for uniforms, and much needed catgut to tend to war wounds.

The publication release highlighted, in detail, the efforts of the college to respond collectively to the war effort. Students were trained in disciplines and skills that were considered necessary to navigate the wartime atmosphere. The unified effort was reflected in the final line of the Department of Publications release: “Only those programs which point directly toward victory are considered a part of Michigan State College today” (pg. 4).